Q: We adopted a child who spent her first year in an institution. Our doctor is urging us to wean her from her bottle, but I essentially have to force-feed her to get her to eat even one Cheerio. Any thoughts?
A: Your daughter may have formed an aversion to feeding if she was fed roughly or quickly as an infant. It’s also possible that the problem is physical, not psychological. In some orphanages, children are fed with bottles that have an extra large opening, so that formula essentially drips down their throats. This results in underdeveloped jaw or mouth muscles, making it difficult to eat.
If you suspect this is the problem, contact your local Early Intervention program and ask for a referral to a speech or occupational therapist who would be able to help your daughter develop the muscle strength and coordination she needs.
Although babies are typically transitioned to solid food before age one, your instinct not to force her is right — the resulting power struggles might interfere with the attachment process. Instead, expose her to different types of food in a relaxed way. When she’s in her high chair, give her messy food, like pudding or cottage cheese, and allow her to play with it. Put your fingers in the food and let her lick them.
When possible, feed your daughter on your lap. Take your time with this, and see that she receives physical therapy, if needed, and she should gradually adjust to eating solid food.
In the meantime, continue to feed your daughter formula while slowly introducing solid foods, so that she receives adequate calories and nutrition while making the transition. Make the most of “bottle time” by snuggling with your daughter while feeding her.